England win a dramatic Euro final through Chloe Kelly’s goal in extra time
The perfect storm peaked at 7.20pm in north-west London, 101 years after England first suppressed it.
Chloe Kelly fell to shreds at Wembley Stadium, the ‘home of football’, as 87,192 fans jumped to their feet.
She gave England a 2-1 lead in the 110th minute of Sunday’s Women’s European Championship final, ripping off her jersey and twirling it in the air.
And as limbs twirled around her in front of the largest crowd in European Championship history, she sprinted away and into the future in ecstasy.
England, the sport’s professed inventors, had previously won only one major international tournament, the 1966 Men’s World Cup. That all changed on Sunday, a turning day at the end of a turning month for women’s football. The Lionesses, disregarded by their own nation for decades, beat Germany and won that nation their first European title.
They also tied it up.
They drew sold out crowds and tens of millions of viewers worldwide.
They drew fans – male and female, young and old, rich and poor, queer and straight – to Wembley Way and Trafalgar Square hours before kick-off on Sunday.
They brought tears to the eyes of women’s football pioneers, and before them danced to “Sweet Caroline” and dove into glittering confetti in front of them crashed her manager’s press conference and sang “Football’s Coming Home,” they offered a glimpse of what the sport can become.
Emma Hayes, Chelsea manager and ESPN pundit, saw Wembley fill up like never before and thought to herself: “I’ve waited for this my whole life.”
Others had waited much longer. Some were born in a country that wouldn’t even let them play the game. In 1921, when the top women’s teams were attracting five-figure attendances, the Football Association of England banned women because, according to the FA, football was “quite unsuitable for women”.
The sport, relegated to parks and rugby fields, has since struggled to recover. The FA lifted the ban in 1971 but, like most football governing bodies around the world, never really invested in women’s football until recently. Until 1993, she delegated leadership to a separate “Women’s Association”. When England met Germany in the final of Euro 2009 almost 13 years ago, most of their players were semi-professionals. Their annual salaries were tiny fractions of the approximately $67,000 each of the 2022 England players will earn for winning Sunday’s final. Their matches prior to the 2009 semi-finals and finals were not televised.
They were, and still are, emblematic of a sport stifled by sexism and neglect.
“Obviously,” admitted Martin Glenn, then-CEO of the FA, in 2017, “the FA has let women’s football down over the years.”
And yet Sunday was there to put on a show that is only comparable to a World Cup finals and proved once again that if you build them, women’s football fans will come.
That axiom has been proven true on three different continents this month, even in non-traditional markets. Some 45,000 fans watched Morocco qualify for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. A sea of yellow watched shoulder to shoulder as Colombia beat Argentina in the Copa America Femenina semi-finals and scared Brazil in the final.
But the Euros, who broke attendance records before the knockout rounds had even started, discovered a new stratosphere.
A sold-out Old Trafford christened it on July 6 and Wembley crystallized promotion on Sunday. As pubs and public squares were filled with flags and face-painted fans, Twitter timelines filled with testimonies former players, journalists, anyone who had spent years in the trenches of women’s football, on how far the sport had come. On TV and on couches commentators and supporters choked on emotions.
England’s players, too, many of whom began their careers alongside part-time jobs in sparsely populated stadiums, saw the importance. But they wanted to make sure this was more than a perfect storm – of talent and a spotlight on home soil. They wanted this big leap forward to be the first of many.
“The final is not the end of a journey,” said captain Leah Williamson the day before, “but the beginning of one.”
The baseline remains low, or rather lowered by decades of underinvestment. England’s first goal On Sunday, 22-year-old Ella Toone, who plays for Manchester United, scored a brilliant goal that has won more men’s trophies than any other English club – but which did not sponsor a women’s team until 2018. His colleagues had made similar mistakes. Liverpool’s women are still chronically underfunded. Barcelona hadn’t been professionalized just a decade ago.
Barcelona and others have increasingly realized that relatively small sums of money can attract huge audiences. At a cost equivalent to that of a single player on the men’s side, Barcelona built a women’s football machine that became a phenomenon. It drew multiple viewers in excess of 90,000 last season en route to an unbeaten domestic season and a Champions League final. Throughout Europe, almost everywhere, the number of visitors and viewers is increasing.
Despite this, England assembled the bulk of their Euro 2022 squad from just four clubs. Germany drew most of its three. The eight-time European champion Germany also suffers from underfunding. Many Bundesliga clubs still do not employ full-time players.
“We want more equality for talent, better stadiums, we want more spectators, we want more TV time, different kick-off times, a more attractive league,” said national coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg on Saturday. “We want to take the next steps and I hope that sport in general will be given more importance in schools, education and politics.”
And so, one day before the final, she repeated the call for sustainability. The EM must not remain a “one-off event”, but “something has to stay, stay”.
Euro 2022 was proof that it is possible – that a century of sexism and neglect can, someday, be reversed – but not that it will be. Some in Europe fear the 2023 World Cup could disrupt the momentum of the sport. Australia and New Zealand, the hosts, will likely have hellish time differences to the west. L’Equipe, France’s leading sports newspaper, reported this week that European broadcasters are not as interested in television rights as FIFA had hoped.
But there is also a feeling that Euro 2022 brought about a paradigm shift in the long term. Football’s power brokers and advocacy groups descended on London this week in unprecedented numbers at a continental women’s event. UEFA will use their success to auction hosting rights for Euro 2025 – bids are due in the coming months. FIFA will open the bid for the 2027 World Cup sometime next year, which should break attendance records and be the most profitable edition ever.
Of course, there are still barriers – patriarchal attitudes and systemic injustices that may never be overcome. In some South American countries there is still a need to protest against inequality. But there seems to be no limit. As Megan Rapinoe told US lawmakers last year, “Given the lack of proper investment, we don’t know the true potential of women’s sport.” All we know, she said, is “how successful women’s sport has been in the face of discrimination”.
Everyone in women’s football hopes Williamson’s words are true.
“If we look back at this tournament as a whole, we really started something,” she said on Saturday. “I will [the final] to be the beginning, to be a doer for the future.”